a1 Division of International Finance, Federal Reserve Board, and University of Maryland
To the public of the 1860's, federal loans and land grants to the pioneer Pacific railroads represented aid necessary to secure an economically and politically desirable technological feat; to the public of the 1870's they represented plunder. Scandal, hinted before the driving of the legendary Golden Spike in 1869, sporadically dominated the national political debates of the 1870's and the 1880's. The issue subsided by the 1900's, leaving only a residual popular impression of ample government aid to railroads. Among professional historians, the debate was revived in the mid-1940's by Robert S. Henry's revisionist article justifying the land grants. The ensuing discussion largely restored the original consensus that the land grants represented excessive subsidization.